MOUNT VERNON — Hundreds of observers of Memorial Day’s recognition of armed services veterans — living and dead — crowded downtown Mount Vernon on Monday to watch the annual parade and pay their respects.
Gold Star Mother Anna Kinnard — whose son, Lt. Dennis Ray Kinnard, U.S. Army paratrooper, age 22, was killed in 1968 in Vietnam — served as the parade’s grand marshal, although she really hadn’t wanted to.
“I appreciate the honor,” she said, “but I would rather they would have had a veteran. This day is more important for the veterans and they should be honored. If I had more room in my car, I would have had a veteran in there with me.”
Bill Tharp, who, with his wife, Betty Tharp, served four years with the U.S. Air Force during the Korean conflict, watched the celebration. He volunteers as a driver with the Knox County Veterans Service Office and drove the Disabled American Veterans van in the parade.
Tharp downplayed his own military service.
“My wife and I both enlisted right out of high school,” he said. “She kept track of the dead during the Korean war, on a computer, would you believe that? My brother Joe also drives for the veterans. We take vets to nine different VA facilities.”
Thanked for his service to his country, Tharp pretended not to hear.
Ron Mason, also a veteran of the Korean war, has attended the Memorial Day parade for more than 40 years.
“Consecutive years,” he added. “I served two years active duty on orders to Korea and 16 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, active duty.”
World War II veteran Mary Irvin, 92, who served as a U.S. Army nurse, also attended the parade, pushed in her wheelchair by her grandson, Joe Irvin. She was thinking only of the good times in Europe during the war; Joe said she was stationed for a time in Ireland.
“It was a bunch of fun at that time,” she recalled. “[Ireland] was the only country that would have us.”
Asked about a wartime memory of which she is proud, Irvin answered, “Getting home,” and promised to attend next year’s parade.
“Let us not forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Master of Ceremonies Ron Staats told the crowd. “Thanksgiving is the time we pause to give thanks to God for what we have. Memorial Day is when we pause to give thanks for the people who fought for the things we have.”
Fred Dailey, a veteran of the Vietnam War and former director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, gave the Memorial Day address.
“That we stand here today in the most exceptional country in the world is further proof of our need to pay tribute [to veterans],” Dailey, a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and the 82nd Airborne Division in the U.S., told the crowd.
He noted that Ohio is eighth among the 50 states in population but fifth in number of its veterans.
“In Ohio we have more veterans who are recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor than any other state in the United States. That’s something I’m very proud of,” he said.
Dailey also noted that in his boyhood church Sunday School class of 10 members, five served in Vietnam; two, including himself, came home unscathed, one was wounded and one was killed.
He told of the flight home following a year of service in Saigon, and how he and his fellow servicemen knelt and kissed the tarmac when they landed in Tacoma, Wash., so happy were they to be home.
“And so very, very proud to be American soldiers,” he said. “Let it always be said that America never ever forgets its veterans. May God bless our heroes and may God bless America.”
Following the tribute on Public Square, a handful of observers accompanied the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to Mound View Cemetery for a special observance there.
Following a reading and a prayer to “The Supreme ruler of the universe, the God of war and the God of peace,” the SUV honor guard presented black-powder rifle salutes. Those in attendance sprinkled rose petals on the graves of Civil War soldiers and veterans of other wars buried throughout the cemetery.
Also participating in the Public Square observances were the Mount Vernon and East Knox high school bands; Knox Heritage singers; the Rev. Dr. Lucien Baker, who gave the invocation and benediction; Ginny Cameron, who played bagpipes; and AMVETS Post 95, which presented a rifle salute.
Essay contest winners Bethany Parks, a senior; Alex Mattox, a junior; John Lortie, a senior; and Zak Palmer, a junior, all of Mount Vernon High School, read their essays, including Palmer’s poem “Freedom’s Not Free. It Comes at a Price.”
Parade entry winners were Boy Scout Troop 328, float category; M170 Willys Jeep Ambulance, used by the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean war, vehicle category; Freedom Twirlers, walking units category; and Sons of American Revolution, animals category.